Palm Royale Review: Kristen Wiig’s Fizzy Soap Leaves a Sour Aftertaste

There are so many fabulous women wearing so many fabulous ‘60s outfits in Apple TV+’s Palm Royale, it’s like a Ryan Murphy fever dream. A cast that includes Kristen Wiig, Allison Janney, Laura Dern and Carol Burnett is undeniably tantalizing, but Palm Royale — debuting this Wednesday on the streamer; I’ve seen the first three episodes — never lives up to its stellar cast. Campy and overbaked, it manages to fall between the cracks of the dramedy genre: not funny enough to be a comedy and not compelling enough to be a drama. But the clothes do look great, though.

Wiig plays Maxine, an outsider trying to horn her way into the inner circle of high society in Palm Beach, Florida in 1969. Maxine lives in a seedy motel, but she scratches and claws her way up the social ladder, sneaking over the wall to get into an exclusive country club. She’s rebuffed at every turn, though, by the social scene’s queen bee Evelyn (Janney) and her minions, including philandering housewife Dinah, played by Leslie Bibb. Maxine has a secret weapon, though: a connection to legendary socialite Norma Dellacorte (Burnett)… who happens to be in a coma at the moment.

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Palm Royale Allison Janney
Palm Royale Allison Janney

The scripts from creator/showrunner Abe Sylvia (Dead to Me, Filthy Rich) fully embrace the camp, with the Palm Beach ladies — fueled by prescription pills, Martinis and crippling insecurity — getting into catty spats and ruthlessly competing to head up the best charities. It plays like a telenovela, with wild operatic twists set to a peppy bossa nova score, and it’s admittedly kind of fun to watch these leading ladies tear into each other. But the pace feels sluggish at an hour per episode, and the comedy often falls flat, with scenes straining for laughs. The actors all seem to be having fun wearing colorful frocks and trading barbs, but this might be a show that’s more fun to act in than to actually watch.

A key problem here is that the role of Maxine doesn’t really line up with Wiig’s weird sense of humor. The SNL alum’s signature quirks still peek through from time to time, but not often enough to make the casting work. It’s not a bad performance, by any means, but it is a bad fit. Plus, Maxine’s relentless drive to be accepted by the Palm Beach elite is a thin premise to hang an entire series on, and all of her striving starts to grows tiresome after a while. There are a lot of suds here, but not a lot of substance. (I also have to question the wisdom of casting a comedy legend like Burnett, who just showed she still has plenty left in the tank on Better Call Saul, and having her lie in bed unconscious for the first three episodes.)

Palm Royale Laura Dern
Palm Royale Laura Dern

Palm Royale hand-waves in the direction of the social turmoil raging in Nixon-era America with the role of hippie activist Linda, played by Dern. But outside of Maxine, the characters all fit into one-dimensional boxes: Linda and her fellow feminists are all shrill and strident, Evelyn and the other socialites are all superficial and mean, and every male character is either treated as eye candy or a buffoon. It’s a pleasure to see sitcom favorites like Newhart’s Julia Duffy (as dizzy socialite Mary) and The Facts of Life’s Mindy Cohn (as journalist Ann) pop up here in key roles. But the fun castings and the fashions and the zingers can only go so far. Palm Royale is like a crisp soda that’s been left out in the sun too long. It’s lost its fizz.

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: Despite a top-notch cast, Apple TV+’s Palm Royale is a middling soap that lacks laughs and emotional depth.

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